The Schultz brothers, McLeod, N.D., are back in control of their cattle enterprise.
Randy, Kevin and Larry Schultz have about 500 cow-calf pairs and a backgrounding feedlot.
Like many cattle feeders in the Dakotas, the Schultzes have been struggling for years with high water and muddy outdoor lots. They changed calving and weaning dates in attempt to get the cattle out of the mud during the high-stress times. Often they had to sell backgrounded calves earlier than they wanted because their outdoor lots got too muddy. They couldn't even think about finishing cattle.
Last year, they built a 42 x 546 foot hoop barn. It's a three-sided barn with a canvas roof, a concrete/canvas sidewall and concrete/steel end walls. The feedbunk is located on the open side of the barn.
They backgrounded calves in the barn last winter and used it for calving this spring. Now they are fattening cull cows it in.
It cost about $100,000 to prepare the site for the barn and another $350,000 to build the barn. Some say that's about twice as much as an outdoor feedlot for the same number of cattle. A federal Clean Water grant – the first in North Dakota – and EQIP cost sharing covered about $175,000 of the construction costs.
Randy says he can't claim that the barn will pay for itself through improved feed efficiency. He doesn't have data to support such a projection yet. But the cattle do seem to eat more in the barn than in outdoor lots.
"We're thinking the barn will pay for itself because we'll be able to make decisions about managing our cattle based on the market, and not the weather," he says. "It will give us so many new options."
The barn also makes it possible for the Schultz brothers to feed cattle without impacting surface and ground water. Runoff is completely contained at the site. The bedding pack is stockpiled and spread on cropland.
"We are very pleased how the barn turned out," Randy says. "I think we see a lot more of these being built in North Dakota."
He and his brothers might even build another one. They designed the site so they could add a second barn in the future.